One of the reasons I have been in a bad mood the past few days is that I found out a mentor of mine passed away from cancer over the weekend. Probably most of you reading this don’t know Bennie Tschoerner. He’s one of the unsung heroes of the Ed Tech world in my book. Without Benny, I probably wouldn’t have started this blog, or stuck with Ed Tech long enough to become part of the LINK Lab and therefore the dalmooc would have been very different. He was one of the first people to inspire me to go beyond the boundaries that academia imposes upon instructional designers and other non-faculty positions.
Probably most people reading this blog now come from dalmooc and may not understand what it is like being an instructional designer. You definitely do it for the enjoyment of the work and not the fame or recognition. Generally, you are relegated to being a glorified tech support position despite being trained in theory, academic writing, public speaking, team building, and many other skills. Faculty come to you 24/7 to fix every issue in their course, but rarely ask you for input on how to improve their course (and then usually ignore your advice when given). Then when you go back to them and ask for collaboration on papers or presentations, they ignore your emails, or worse yet agree and then stop replying. And of course, you lose count of how many awards are scattered across campus that were given to the instructor for the design of their class.
I still remember the day when I was quite depressed about yet another academic snub by someone when Bennie walked into my session at TxDLA. He told me he saw my presentation elsewhere and had made sure he would sign up as moderator for the rest of my sessions. Here was this guy from the Board of Directors that was taking an interest in my weird theoretical emerging technology sessions. Not only that, he was rallying people to attend them. I saw him telling people everywhere to come to my session (and many other people’s sessions, too). I went from crickets one year to standing room only the next. It was his interest in my stuff despite my lack of Ph.D. that made me think that maybe I could possibly reach others out there. So that very year I grabbed Darren and Katrina at the closing session and proposed the idea for this blog (which believe it or not, was a group blog at the beginning… and still is if the prodigal bloggers ever choose to return to open arms :).
Those of you that knew Benny also knew that he was always an a fun person to be around. And you never would have guessed by the way he acted that he was also an ASP.NET expert. I’ll miss never getting to have a faux debate over PHP vs. ASP.NET with him again. But he would never bat an eye at any new idea no matter how crazy. I’ll always remember him saying over and over again “let’s go for it – it’ll piss off the people that don’t want to change, but that probably means they need it.” If you can’t tell, he also wasn’t afraid to tell it like it was.
The biggest lesson I learned from Benny was to look past the big names and political rules in your field to see the people that are toiling away in obscurity. Out of all the people that were in line to take over from him as CIO of TxDLA, he pestered me into doing it. And I mean that – he was pretty relentless about it. But he didn’t care about who was the biggest name person in TxDLA to take over, or the person with the most political clout. He chose who he thought was best and then pushed to make it happen. And ultimately, he was wrong on that front :) My falling out with TxDLA was a direct result of following his advice… which I would still follow if I had a chance to do it again. Right advice, right person, wrong time is all. Many people don’t realize how ahead of his time he was.
One of the frustrating things about Ed Tech is how political it is. You are constantly told that its not about your abilities or intellect, but who you know, how many publications you have, how many millions or billions of dollars you get in grants, how prestigious of a university you work for, and other things like that. Things that are only options for a select group of people (mostly white males) that get the fewer and fewer opportunities to go down that path. In a lot of ways, Benny was the Ratatouille of Ed Tech, believing that a great idea could come from any sector. People like that are few and far between, and his can-do attitude will be sorely missed.